Wrens are one of our smallest birds and with their brown colouring they are inconspicuous and well camouflaged as they flit amongst the undergrowth. However their song is surprisingly loud for such a tiny bird.
The Latin name for the wren is Troglodytes meaning cave –dweller or one who lives in a hole. This is an accurate description as the nest is spherical and about the size of a large orange. Unusually it is the male bird which builds the nest and he will build several – up to a dozen- for the female to choose from. She will line the chosen nest with feathers and lay up to eight eggs. One male may have several females using his nests.
Because of their tiny size they are especially susceptible to cold weather and our recent chilly spell will have hit them hard as they do not usually visit bird tables. They are known for their communal roosting where many birds join together in a nestbox or old nest. The record is 61 birds in a nestbox.
In past times the wren was thought of as female, hence the nickname Jenny wren, and the robin as male, Cock Robin. Yet the wren was also known as the king of birds. A legend tells of how the birds decided that whoever flew highest would be crowned king. The eagle flew higher than any other bird and thought he had won but then a little wren flew out from its hiding place in the eagle’s feathers and took the prize! The eagle attacked the wren leaving it with a crooked stumpy tail.
In Ireland and the Isle of Man there is a custom of Hunting the Wren on Boxing Day. Originally a live wren was captured and tied to a pole. As it was taken round the village its feathers were handed out to households as a charm against evil. Luckily for the wrens a fake bird is used nowadays.